Kishi Bashi – “Hey Big Star”
Kishi Bashi is the pseudonym used by Athens, Georgia musician Kaoru (or “K”) Ishibashi. The project came to prominence with the release of Kishi Bashi’s cultishly proselytized 2012 debut LP, 151a, which was preceded by a 2011 EP and followed by a handful of additional records, including another studio full-length, 2014’s Lighght.
But Kishi Bashi first appeared in the public eye playing violin for of Montreal from 2010-2012, and even after his departure from that band, he continued to prioritize the instrument in his own work. As such, he’s often perceived first and foremost as a violinist, in part because it’s so unusual to see an “indie rock” frontman on stage — sometimes accompanied, sometimes solo — with nothing but a violin.
Treating that as a novelty, however, does an injustice to the man’s work as a songwriter, a performer, and maybe even as a violinist. He’s not just an outstanding player; his approach to the instrument is visionary, employing loops and effects to achieve otherworldly sounds in an unexpected context. If you need proof, watch this 2012 video of Kishi Bashi, alone, playing a live-in-studio version of 151a standout “I Am The Antichrist To You.” Every single sound you’re hearing is produced right there by that man, that violin, and a rack full of pedals.
Man, that thing gives me chills every time I hear it. CHILLS. (That video almost captures the magic of the guy’s live sets, which are fucking breathtaking.)
Kishi Bashi’s forthcoming third full-length, Sonderlust, was written during a period of unprecedented personal turmoil for the artist: a separation from his wife of 13 years. And when he began the process, he found that his traditional approach yielded unsatisfying results.
“As I sat down to write songs last summer, I went to all my usual conduits of creation: violin loops, guitar, piano, and I came up with the musical equivalent of fumes,” he said. “I tried to create orchestral pop recordings that I assumed were my forte, and in turn I found myself standing in front of a creative wall of frightening heights.”
So he took a different approach. He brought in drummer Matt Chamberlain (Morrissey, Fiona Apple), engineer Pat Dillet (Angelique Kidjo, David Byrne), and producer Chris Taylor (of Grizzly Bear), and together they crafted a sonically dizzying Rundgren-esque headphones-masterpiece: swelling, lush, spacious; full of pain, introspection, and humanity. It’s Kishi Bashi’s best album by a mile. The violin is still here, sometimes, but there’s so much more.
On the Sonderlust single we’re premiering today, “Hey Big Star,” the violin is drowned almost as soon as it’s introduced. The track is instead a prog-disco banger driven by synths, bass, a crisp handclap-beat, Ishibashi’s lovely vocal, and a truly magnificent chorus. Taylor’s paw prints are all over this thing, and you can hear a little bit of Kishi Bashi’s old band when he goes to his falsetto, but the most obvious influence is ELO, especially that band’s wonderful 1978 single “Mr. Blue Sky.”
Then there is, of course, the song’s namesake, a band that is at least present in spirit. Like the best work from Alex Chilton’s timeless group, “Hey Big Star” is what they call “perfect pop”: exquisitely crafted and achingly beautiful; communicating wonder, uncertainty, and sadness, all in the service of a majestic melody. It deserves the worshipful hearts and ears of children by the millions — give me one good reason why this track couldn’t go to #1 in America (without using Carly Rae Jepsen as a reference point) — but it will likely settle for more modest adoration.
“This album is straight from my soul,” said Kishi Bashi of Sonderlust. “I questioned everything about what it means to love and desire. The difference between loving someone and being in love.”
Heavy shit. Allow me to counter, though, with a similar paradox, courtesy of Westerberg:
“I’m in love. What’s that song? I’m in love with that song.”
Here’s the song. I love it.
Kishi Bashi is going out on tour from late September through early November, dates are below, and you should go because it’s a transcendent experience for real:
09/27 Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
09/28 Charlotte, NC @ Visulite (tickets)
09/30 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
10/01 Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore – Silver Spring
10/02 New York, NY @ Webster Hall
10/03 Boston, MA @ Royale
10/04 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
10/06 Toronto, ON @ MOD Club
10/08 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
10/09 Pontiac, MI @ Crofoot Ballroom
10/10 Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
10/11 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
10/12 Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue Mainroom
10/14 Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
10/15 Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
10/16 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
10/18 Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
10/19 Vancouver, BC @ The Fox Cabaret
10/20 Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
10/21 San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic
10/22 Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst Atrium
10/23: San Diego, CA @ Irenic
10/24 Los Angeles, CA @ The Belasco Theater
10/26 Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
10/28 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
10/29 Austin, TX @ Mohawk
10/30 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
11/01 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
11/02 Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
Sonderlust is out 9/16 via Joyful Noise. Pre-order it here.